The Sharks' two-game road trip ended without a win Friday, and they will return to SAP Center on Sunday at a critical juncture in their season.
Sunday’s game against the Calgary Flames marks the start of a season-long, six-game homestand that concludes a day after Thanksgiving. The end date matters because Thanksgiving is an important benchmark for the playoffs.
Entering last season, nearly 78 percent of the teams that held a playoff spot on Thanksgiving qualified for the postseason in the salary-cap era. Last year -- the first in which the league had 31 teams -- 11 of 16 teams who were in position on turkey day ended up making the playoffs. It’s not a guarantee either way, but the odds are in favor of the teams who hold a playoff spot.
When they’re playing is important, but it’s who the Sharks host on the homestand that will make the next six games particularly important for their season. The Flames, Nashville Predators, Toronto Maple Leafs, St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks will visit SAP Center over the next two weeks.
Only the Blues are currently on the outside looking in at the playoff picture, just two points back of the struggling Oilers for the final Wild Card spot with two games in hand. As of this writing, the Sharks will face:
- Two of the NHL’s top three teams by record (Predators, Maple Leafs)
- Three Pacific Division rivals (Flames, Oilers, Canucks)
- A team who just beat them, 4-0 (Blues)
Of course, the season is barely a month old, which means standings positions can change by the day. What makes this upcoming stretch challenging for the Sharks is that their opponents, largely, are good at what’s recently ailed San Jose.
The Sharks allowed at least three goals in each of their last nine games, beginning with an Oct. 23 win in Nashville. San Jose has given up 31 total goals, and 29 at even strength during that time. All but one of those was a five-on-five goal, and the Sharks allowed a litany of quality chances. All the stats to follow come courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and Corsica Hockey.
From Oct. 23 until now, only four teams allowed five-on-five, high-danger chances at a higher rate than the Sharks (13.49 per hour), and seven have conceded expected goals at a higher rate (2.7 per hour) as of this writing. San Jose also allowed high-danger goals at the league’s highest rate (2.56 per hour) during that time.
That brings us to the Sharks’ next six opponents. They will host six teams that, over the same stretch, either: A) generated high-danger chances at a high rate, B) converted on high-danger chances at a high rate, or C) all of the above, as the table below demonstrates.
|Flames||13.34 (7)||2.71 (10)||1.11 (22)||13.21 (26)|
|Predators||8.95 (28)||2.15 (21)||1.9 (7)||25 (4)|
|Maple Leafs||13.63 (5)||2.74 (7)||1.61 (11)||18 (11)|
|Blues||10.92 (18)||2.28 (19)||2.35 (2)||26.83 (2)|
|Oilers||13.65 (3)||2.8 (6)||1.56 (14)||15 (20)|
|Canucks||10.74 (20)||2.1 (23)||1.6 (12)||18.87 (9)|
Shooting percentages can be volatile early in the season, especially when dealing with an already reduced sample size by looking only at high-danger chances. So, it’s possible -- if not likely -- some of these teams won’t be as prolific by the time the Sharks host them, especially later in the homestand.
Still, the Sharks aren't limiting dangerous chances lately, nor are they keeping them out of their own net. If they can't tighten up defensively, an already critical, challenging homestand looks even more daunting.